3 Ways Music Supports Learning

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 -- Scott Sterling

Every year, March is celebrated as Music in Our Schools Month, to recognize the outstanding achievements of music educators and students, as well as shine a spotlight on the broader value of music learning. Music has long been understood to provide much more to the human experience than just entertainment. But it’s only in our recent technological revolution that we’ve been able to conduct studies that reveal the actual changes the brain undergoes when listening to or playing music.

One study showed that students who actively played an instrument in music class improved their processing over students who participated in so-called “music appreciation” classes, where listening was the primary focus.

So, what is it about music that leads to learning gains? One of the leading sources of research into the effects of music education on learning is Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory. The lab has designed multiple studies that measure the neural processing of students before and after music education, and their findings have been eye-opening. To celebrate National Music in Our Schools Month, we want to highlight three ways participating in some kind of music education has been shown to help students achieve greater success in the classroom overall:

Music builds new neural connections

Playing, and to a lesser extent simply listening to, music demands both logical (left brain) and creative (right brain) thinking. Over time, this leads to more connections between the right and left hemispheres of their brains. The benefits of building these neural connections cross over into other academic endeavors.

Music encourages memorization

Memorization is still an important aspect of learning in the classroom. And while keeping track of those key dates, mathematical equations, and tricky grammar rules may not seem to have any connection to music, they require the same memorization abilities as learning a new song for choir or piano recital piece.

Music engages students in learning

We talk about engagement in education all the time, but achieving that engagement can be easier said than done. Music is a subject that many students feel a true passion for. It gets them excited; and we all learn better when we’re curious and enthusiastic about the subject matter. Some studies, like this report from the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, have even made connections between music education and closing the achievement gap for disadvantaged students in Chicago and Los Angeles.

In a time where district budgets continue to be constricted, it’s worth looking into finding creative ways to keep music education alive. Not every student will go on to have a career in music, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that formal education in music leads to more than its fair share of general academic benefits. We would love to know—how do you make music education a priority in your school or district? Let us know in the comments section below!

The benefits of music aren’t limited to formal classes and lessons. Check out this blog post for simple tips to make music a part of your next lesson plan!